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Harrison: The task facing Nuñez, UNM is no joke

UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nunez talks about the process of finding a new head football coach. Tuesday, Dec. 03, 2019. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

It’s almost never that a Sports Speak Up! submission makes its way to the Journal Sports cover. But it’s your lucky day, Will:

WHILE READING the Albuquerque Journal’s story on the Lobos-Utah State game (from last Saturday) I noticed the attendance in the game stats at 87,367. The Journal had estimated 1,200 fans in the stands while the official attendance was put at 11,611. I assume the 87,367 figure was a season-ending joke by the Journal. I appreciate the humor and got a good laugh out of it. There wasn’t much else to even smile about this season. Thank you Bob Davie for your efforts to bring respect to this program. And thank you Lobos for giving it your best.

— Will

I assure you, the listed attendance figure was a flat-out mistake by the Journal (read, Randy Harrison) and not a clumsy attempt to insert humor where facts should reside.

A quick explanation: The Associated Press for some reason didn’t transmit the Utah State-Lobos box score to us, so we had to type it up ourselves as our deadline crept closer. I copied and pasted the Vanderbilt-Tennessee box score from Saturday to use as a template to type over. I think I did OK, with the unfortunate exception of … not typing over the attendance figure from Neyland Stadium.

Yep. Tennessee draws 87,367 to close a bowl-bound, but otherwise nondescript season. UNM football, which as Will suggested played its finale in a largely empty Dreamstyle Stadium, would gladly take one-fourth of that. One-third of that, and AD Eddie Nuñez, who cut his teeth in athletic administration at No. 1-ranked LSU, would be doing cartwheels.

Even if UNM football was alive and kicking tail.

Not like now when it’s on life support.

That has cost Bob Davie his coaching job, as you know, and will cost UNM a hefty contract buyout. Guess we’ll all find out next Tuesday at the Board of Regents meeting whether said buyout is along the lines of what’s stated in his contract – the math suggests between $800,000-$900,000 – or another figure altogether. To me, the surprise would be if there are no surprises.

Through all of this, Davie has become an easy target, of course. His detractors are many, their articulated reasons for abandoning support far-ranging. Among them:

• He failed to offer enough New Mexicans scholarships, never mind that the state just doesn’t produce football players (note: today lists two state kids – La Cueva’s Connor O’Toole and Portales’ Philip Blidi – as prospects in this class).

• His support of the players who kneeled during the makeshift halftime national anthem two years ago vs. Air Force was karma.

• Karma came for his actions concerning the rape investigation of a former player. UNM was sued for mishandling it all and settled, it was revealed this week, for numbers not disclosed. A former Lobo wrote to detail his concerns about the program’s culture. Davie infamously was reported to have said “get some dirt on this whore” in reference to the alleged victim (an accusation Davie adamantly denied) and, in defiant spirit, served an offseason 30-day suspension.

One thing on which I think we all agree: Davie wasn’t the transcendent personality to light a fire of enthusiasm to turn our fair-weather fans into hard-core zealots.

That was a problem that preceded him and wasn’t created by him. Recall that Rocky Long, whose legacy as a 65-69 UNM head coach improves with each passing year, had a parting shot for “the damn fans” in 2008. Of course everything is relative. A few years (2003-05) earlier, the Lobos had a run of averaging upwards of 35,000 per home game. Not the 15,747 figure UNM’s stats suggest this year.

So who wants this job? Nuñez on Tuesday trumpeted “unbelievable interest” in it.

He’s right. I find significant interest hard to believe. But I’m not in the know.

I do know that readers have voted big support for former Lobo player/assistant coach and current Arizona State defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales – 44 percent of nearly 1,000 submissions in our online poll hope he gets mama’s call and comes home. We know he’s getting contacted; Nuñez allowed that much.

The next most popular choice, as of late Thursday, was “somebody not named on this list” at 24 percent.

One name we didn’t list who might be considered: Curtis Luper, TCU assistant who coached running backs at UNM (2002-04). Another may be a longer shot, but Jim McElwain has bounced back nicely this year at Central Michigan. The former Colorado State and Florida coach, who once showed interest in New Mexico State, is a Montana native and might want to come back West.

In any case, on UNM will go, flailing at this football thing, to the complaints of still others.

Not trying to be Tennessee. Not trying to be LSU.

Just hoping to be a better version of itself.

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